Fairy Tail - Part 7 Review

I wasn't terribly impressed with the last season of Fairy Tail (Part 5 and 6). After the progress that had been made across the first 50 episodes or so, the series seemed to have totally reverted back to kiddie adventures, introducing Wendy and Charle for extra cuteness, with the wizards engaged permanently longer battles with bigger and badder foes where the outcome is never really in any doubt. The expansion into a much more technologically advanced SF world also seemed to have been erased, the series reverting back to medieval-like agrarian communities and towns of magic fantasy. It really looked like Fairy Tail had lost its way. Based on the cracking first 12 episodes of the latest series however, that might have been an overly hasty judgement...

Ok, maybe not the entire 12 episodes. The series gets off to a typically weak start in the first three filler scene-setting episodes as it re-introduces the viewer to the characters. Consequently we have a Flower Viewing Party (showing at least that the citizens of Magnolia conform to the Tory stereotype of the working class by enjoying nothing as much as a bit of booze and bingo), another acting assignment that serves as Wendy's First Big Job (and brings Fried back into the picture), and a 24-hour Endurance Roadrace that turns out to be a bit of a Wacky Races-style competition. Not a promising start by any means, however things start to look like they are taking a more serious turn in episode 76.

Episode 76 introduces us to Guildarts, the most powerful wizard in Fairy Tail. Really? More powerful than Erza? Why then haven't we heard of him before? Well, it seems that he's been involved in a 100 Year Quest, and the fact that it has failed will undoubtedly have profound implications. The question of the disappearance of the dragons is raised again here, but the news that Guildarts has for Natsu in his search for Igneel might not be what he wants to hear. This revelation at the end of the episode gives the jaded viewer a slight thrill of anticipation that the series' could be about to see a return to form, even as you cautiously push that thought back down for fear that it will just lead to another series of near-endless battles. It does look promising though.

And indeed, you don't have to wait too long as another mysterious figure heralding imminent doom to appear or reappear in Episode 77. Mystogan looks very like someone who has appeared in the past, and this at least explains why you are never quite sure whether this particular character is a good guy or a bad guy. When he warns however that Magnolia and the whole of Fairy Tail are facing certain doom, you really do feel that this could indeed be The End, and it's not just a threat of a baddie who Natsu, Lucy, Gray and Erza will eventually defeat. Nor is it just because this dire pronouncement is accompanied by peals of thunder and falling rain, or even because Charle is acting a bit moody - there really is a darker edge and a gloomy tone creeping into the series at this point.

To say any more about what happens would be taking us into spoiler territory, so suffice to say that events escalate rapidly and the dire events foretold do indeed come to pass. It should be mentioned however - without giving away anything - that the viewer is spirited away, for reasons I won't get into, to a parallel world called Edolas. The reason this is significant is that it gives the animators a whole new reality to work with, and since we're talking about the A1-Pictures studio you can be sure that they go to town with highly imaginative and accomplished animation. There's a real flair in the artwork once again here, and it extends beyond the imaginative depiction of new worlds.

The animators have to be just as inventive here in how they break the formulaic characterisation and plotting of the previous episodes. Everything is literally turned upside down. The parallel world with characters who are opposites in terms of personality is by no means original to viewers of the old Star Trek series, but here it's used as a way of exploring the characters in a more rounded fashion, not just as the flipside of a coin. This not only creates a new dynamic that is thrilling and funny to watch, but it reveals hidden aspects to many of the characters. As well as Mystogan and Guildarts, we discover that there are two other familiar figures in the series who are not what they seem, higher beings called Exceeds who have been operating on Earth Land undercover on a secret mission. You will be very surprised at the revelation of who exactly these beings are...

Fairy Tale - Part 7 is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray. The Blu-ray wasn't seen for review this time, but the quality and specifications are likely to remain the same as those reviewed in Part 6. On DVD, Part 7 consists of 12 episodes (episodes 73-84) on two dual-layer discs. The set is in PAL format and encoded for Region 2. As with previous releases in this series, the 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer, coming from Funimation, is of the usual excellent quality, properly standards converted. Colours are bright and well-defined, CG effects are superbly integrated into the animation and the stable transfer flows smoothly along. There are few minor instances of colour-banding, but far less than is common in animation transfers. On up to a 42" screen the series will look great in Standard Definition, but the benefits of High Definition on the Blu-ray will be noticeable on any TV sizes larger than that.
The available audio tracks are the original Japanese track in Dolby Digital 2.0 and the English dub in Dolby Digital 5.1. I've stuck with the Japanese track throughout the series to this point and consequently have a clear definition of the characters based on this, so it would be difficult to comment on how successful the English dub is. As ever, the choice of original Japanese or English dub is down to the individual, but the Funimation crew usually do a good job in trying to match voices with characters and this sounded good from a brief sample I made of the dub. Certainly the actual audio quality on both tracks is excellent. Subtitles are yellow, are generally clear and easy to read, even if they are yellow. They are not dubtitles.

There's nothing of major interest in the Extra features. Disc 1 contains Commentaries from the Funimation crew for Episodes 74 and 79. Disc 2 also includes a Textless Opening and Textless Closing as well as a US trailer.

Proving that you should never write-off any long-running anime too soon, Fairy Tail - Part 7 finds not only a thrilling new world to explore, but brings out another side to familiar characters in a way that comes together into a satisfying whole. Not only is the animation once more fresh and imaginative in its exploration of the parallel world of Edolas, but there's a fresh new dynamic to the characters. The script is accordingly funnier, sharper and a superb balance achieved (and animated) between the dramatic moments and the comic interplay. This is a highly entertaining start to a new season that suggests that there's some mileage left in Fairy Tail yet.

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